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Why the role of chief diversity officer is so fraught

July 14, 2020, 12:40 PM UTC
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Good morning, Broadsheet readers! Ellevest improves its impact investing for racial justice, we mourn Zindzi Mandela and Naya Rivera, and the CDO job is hot—and hard. Have a thoughtful Tuesday.

– The revolving CDO door. It will likely come as no surprise that chief diversity officer is among the hottest jobs in corporate America, with CBRE, General Electric, and Zoom Video Communications all naming CDOs in recent weeks. Protests demanding racial justice have put a spotlight on employers’ roles in perpetuating inequality like never before, and firms are newly committed to diversifying their internal workforces and to making that clear in their public personas.

But the CDO job is fraught. A Wall Street Journal story published yesterday describes the revolving door of the CDO office. Current and former CDOs told the WSJ the high turnover of the role is due to “lack of resources, unrealistic expectations, and inadequate support from senior executives.” 

The current social climate has elevated the profile of CDOs, but the challenges that plague the position have deep roots. My colleague Ellen McGirt (author of Fortune’s must-read newsletter raceAhead) framed the issue in stark terms last year in a story titled: “Chief diversity officers are set up to fail.” Her piece featured Russell Reynolds research that found that 47% of companies in the S&P 500 index had a CDO, but two-thirds of those executives had been hired or promoted to the role in the past three years. The major hurdles facing CDOs? Insufficient power within their organizations, spotty demographic data, and too little support from other company leaders. 

What’s more, the job is flat-out taxing. “It requires an emotional muscle unlike any role I’ve ever worked in,” Joy Fitzgerald, the chief diversity and inclusion officer at Eli Lilly & Co told the WSJ. “You’re dealing with polarizing topics, and these topics and issues are very nuanced. There are not a lot of best practices you can point to that are easy or quick. You have to be comfortable knowing that the norm is managing discomfort.”

Given the avalanche of corporate pledges and platitudes about diversity in recent weeks, firms should be eager to address the shortcomings of their CDO offices. For starters, organizations should ensure CDOs report to the CEO so they have real influence on company culture; reporting to legal, marketing, or HR reduces a CDO’s reach.  

As Ellen reported last year, the problems facing CDOs are not new; the solutions can be.

Claire Zillman
claire.zillman@fortune.com
@clairezillman

Today’s Broadsheet was curated by Emma Hinchliffe

ALSO IN THE HEADLINES

- Invest responsibly. Ellevest, the investing platform for women founded by Sallie Krawcheck, is revamping its impact investing offering to allow clients to direct their money toward companies that support racial justice. Ellevest will now consider 13 factors, including the company’s workplace diversity, working conditions, ethical and environmental track record, and its involvement in firearm sales or the private prison industry. Fortune

- Keeping it Real. A funding exclusive this morning: the therapy startup Real raised a $6 million seed round from investors including Kirsten Green at Forerunner Ventures and Gwyneth Paltrow. Launching at the beginning of a pandemic required a drastic shift in strategy, says founder Ariela Safira, but the company focused on mental health has found its footing quickly. Fortune

- Rest in power. Zindzi Mandela, South Africa's ambassador to Denmark and the daughter of Nelson and Winnie Mandela, died at 59 on Monday. President Cyril Ramaphosa said that Zindzi was "a leader in her own right." CNN

- The new DeVos. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos's guiding philosophy has been local and parental control of schools as she's loosened federal requirements. Now, she's pushing forward President Trump's demand for schools to reopen—a drastic ideological shift. New York Times

MOVERS AND SHAKERS: Merck KGaA named Merck Healthcare CEO Belén Garijo deputy CEO. WeWork promoted Lauren Fritts to chief communications officer. Sima Gandhi, former head of business development and strategy for Plaid, and Amy Guggenheim Shenkan join the board of directors at DriWay Technologies. OpenExchange named Kate Cornish Booth chief people officer. 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

- A critic on the crisis. In her new book, Washington Post media critic Margaret Sullivan rings the alarm about the crisis facing local journalism. Some local newspapers, she writes, are on the verge of disappearing forever. Fortune's Rachel King interviewed Sullivan about her book and the new urgency with which she's raising red flags. Fortune

- A room of her own. When law enforcement knocked on the door of Ghislaine Maxwell's mansion in New Hampshire, she fled to another room, prosecutors said in a new filing. Maxwell is scheduled to appear in court today for a bail hearing after she was arrested for facilitating the sexual abuse of minors by Jeffrey Epstein (she has denied all wrongdoing). New York Times

- In a jam. If you're familiar with trendy restaurants, you've probably heard of Sqirl. The L.A. eatery known for an Instagram-friendly ricotta toast with jam and its owner Jessica Koslow are now under fire for allegedly serving moldy jam and, worse, hiding mold from health inspectors. Sqirl responded to the allegations on Instagram, saying that it doesn’t use commercial pectin or a lot of sugar, so “a low-sugar jam is more susceptible to the growth of mold.” Eater

ON MY RADAR

Naya Rivera was the best part of Glee The Daily Beast

Why the Chicks dropped their 'Dixie' The New Yorker

What to know about the Jennifer Lopez–Alex Rodriguez bid for the New York Mets Fortune

PARTING WORDS

"I was like, ‘Oh my God, that’s an option? You can be a woman who is enraged? Yeah! I feel that!"

-Actor Cristin Milioti on being inspired by Uma Thurman's Kill Bill character, The Bride.